Fruit and herbal infusions are taking off in the retail sector, and food service operators can expect to see demand growing among health-conscious consumers. Ian Boughton reports
The fastest-growing "tea" is not tea at all. It is the kind of beverage which has no camellia sinensis in it, and for which "tea" is simply a handy term to describe what are really herb and fruit infusions. Growth in the sector at retail is strong, and that growth is expected to carry forward into food service.
"We are now at the stage where customers expect to see fruit infusions on a menu," says Susan Gregory, category marketing director at Unilever Foodsolutions. "This is a huge opportunity to increase profit. Retail statistics show that normal black tea is static, but fruit and herbal teas are growing at 4.7%, and out-of-home consumer spending is likely to mirror this.
"With health trends heavily influencing the food and drink industry, operators should ensure that they are communicating the qualities of these teas. The majority of consumers are probably unaware that herbal teas are caffeine-free and have no calories, that they contain compounds that have health benefits, and can be calming and relaxing, energizing or soothing."
Alternative "teas" are gaining popularity, even among tea drinkers, according to Sue Jones-Smithson, customer marketing manager for Typhoo. "In a society where diet and detox are key words for consumers, it is clear to see why sales of fruit and herb teabags are up more than 10% in the last 12 months. Caterers can promote this on menus."
Typhoo offers a food service range under its London Fruit & Herb brand, and says that in blind taste tests the teas consistently outperformed competitors. The London Fruit & Herb range includes Peppermint Tingle, said to aid digestion Camomile and Honey, boasting calming properties Orange and Ginseng for boosting energy and a Superfruits, containing blackberry, blueberry and açai, all rich in nutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Twinings has a launch of new infusions due in April. "We're forever explaining that infusions don't actually contain any tea," says Andrea Stopher, senior trade marketing manager. "But the fact that so many people refer to it as ‘tea' is a clear indication of how these non-teas have established themselves as mainstream beverages. Twinings infusions are made from herbs, roots, flowers, fruits and leaves. These are caffeine-free, less than five calories per cup, and dairy-free."
The new Twinings blends feature Cranberry and Sanguinello Orange and Blueberry and Apple.
Suki Teas of Belfast, now distributed in the UK by Espresso Warehouse, has a habit of describing all its infusions with snappy three-word tags. Thus, the Red Berry infusion, a one-star Great Taste award winner, is "tart, fruit, jam", and the Organic Camomile is "alpine, lemon, sweet".
"My particular favourite is the Whole Peppermint - ‘tingly, fresh, minty' - as the mint comes straight from source as a complete leaf, with all the flavour kept in," says company founder Oscar Woolley. "The best peppermint in the world is grown in Germany, and we tasted 87 different mints from 18 different sources to find ours. It truly is the world's mintiest mint."
The recent appointment of First Choice Coffee as UK distributor for Java Republic of Dublin has brought with it the herb and flower teas from the Irish maker. Last year the Wild Berry and Camillo infusions both took Great Taste awards.
The Wild Berry is an infusion with fresh raspberry and cherry flavours, and its colour comes from Sudanese hibiscus flowers, blended with apple and rosehip petals from Chile. For best effect, the company recommends a seven-minute brewing time. The Camillo is a blend of camomile flowers, citrus peels, rosehip and orange flowers, lemon grass, hibiscus and vanilla.
The new flavours for this year are Blood Orange, Liquorice and Wild Peony, which Java Republic says reflect the market's rising interest in more exotic flavours. The Blood Orange is naturally high in vitamin C, and is made from apple, hibiscus, rosehip, citrus peel and sunflower petals.
Paul Gugenheim founded Birt and Tang teas to bring authentic Chinese herbal formulations to the UK, although he has had to adapt them slightly to suit the western palate - such as packing them in tea bags.
"Now we are trying to break into the hotel sector," says Gugenheim. "We expect interest in offering guests more than the standard branded bedroom teas. Our EasyNight infusion, in recycled foil packaging, is designed specifically for this market. It blends soothing Chinese herbs with albizzia, lily bulb and other flowers, and is a delicate, mellow tea that is ideal for the end of the day."
A unique tea is CyclePlus, for women. According to Chinese tradition, women can use angelica and chuanxiong to promote circulation and so ease their natural cycle, and CyclePlus uses both of these. Along the same lines, the Imuplus tea follows the ancient Chinese belief that illness arises from imbalances within the body, and this blend of the herb milk-vetch with jiao gu lan, tuckahoe and other nourishing herbs, is described as "obeying the time-honoured principles of Chinese medicine".
The biggest single non-tea "tea" is probably rooibos, the South African "red bush", which produces not leaves, but a kind of pine-like needle. It is drunk as traditional black tea, with or without milk, and with sugar.
Rooibos was first introduced to the UK by Bruce Ginsberg, chairman of Dragonfly Teas, who grew up on a farm where his grandfather began experimenting with the plant in 1904. Now, about 8,000 tonnes of rooibos is produced each year. His main Tick Tock brand is still growing at 63% per year, and the new green version - if a green version of a red bush does not sound too strange - is claimed to be a "first" in the British market.
Rather like camellia sinensis, "green" rooibos is achieved by stopping the natural oxidization process. The result is more delicate, aromatic, and with a heartier herbal taste and lighter colour, and it is suggested that green rooibos has an even higher concentration of nutrients than normal rooibos.
Ginsberg suggests that there are now over a million regular rooibos drinkers, and that the time has come for cafés and hotels to offer the drink that these people buy in retail.
Tetley is now set to introduce its Redbush into the out-of-home sector, having launched it into retail last year with what the company describes as "phenomenal success".
Tetley Redbush is a naturally sweet tea, explains brand development manager Peter Haigh. "It is naturally caffeine-free, rich in antioxidants and is as hydrating as water.
"Research has shown that consumers are now looking for something healthy and different in the afternoon, when previously they would have had a coffee. We believe that Redbush has the potential to mimic the phenomenal growth of green tea over the past few years."
Equal Exchange says it has the UK's only Fairtrade and organic rooibos tea range, and its new additions are an invigorating Buchu Honeybush Rooibos and a calming Masala Rooibos. "Buchu is a traditional stimulating tonic, good for stomach and urinary conditions while Honeybush provides a delicious natural sweetness," says managing director Andy Good. "The Masala is a blend of Fairtrade spices from India, including green cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and black pepper, to warm the palate."
Unlike most other "tea" products, Equal Exchange's rooibos range is produced entirely in South Africa, with small-scale farmers involved in everything from the harvesting and processing of the rooibos leaf to the making of tea bags and the printing and packaging. Their communities' income can be five times or more what they used to get for the leaf alone.
Newby Teas has responded with its own rooibos ideas, all in loose-leaf catering pouches or individual tea bags. Rooibos Strawberry and Honey is a loose rooibos blended with sugar, white chocolate and flavours of strawberry and honey, and the Sheer Pleasure is loose rooibos blended with fennel, hibiscus, currants, sandalwood and liquorice. The Newby Rooibos Breakfast involves mango, currants, orange, liquorice and sandalwood, and the After Dinner rooibos tea features fennel, liquorice, raspberry, currants, sandalwood and hibiscus.
- Birt and Tang 020 8830 8050 www.birtandtang.co.uk
- Dragonfly Teas 01635 278648 www.dragonflyteas.com
- Equal Exchange 0131-554 5912 www.equalexchange.co.uk
- Espresso Warehouse/Suki 0141-420 2422 www.espressowarehouse.com
- First Choice Coffee/Java Republic 01908 275520 www.firstchoicecoffee.com
- Newby Teas 020 7251 8939 www.newbyteas.com
- Tetley 0845 606 6328 www.teaexperts.co.uk
- Twinings 01264 348181 www.twiningsfs.co.uk
- Typhoo 0151-522 4000 www.typhoo.com
- Unilever Foodsolutions/Lipton 0800 783 3728 www.unileverfoodsolutions.co.uk